Getting steel for 9/11 memorial in Tallahassee was no easy chore for Terhune

A drawing of the 9/11 memorial was unveiled during ceremonies last week at the Red Cross building.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine
Michael Terhune stands by a trailer carrying a 3,500-pound piece of steel that will make a 9/11 memorial.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook Staff Writer

Tom Derzypolski walked to the podium, said a few words and then stopped as he looked at an 11-foot piece of steel beam from the fallen South Tower.

The steel, which brought back memories of the September 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, lay on a trailer behind Derzypolski.

“I didn’t expect that to affect me,” he said.

Derzypolski was one of several speakers who showed up at the American Red Cross Capital Area office on Easterwood Drive to announce plans for construction of a memorial to mark the tragic day. It was also a day to celebrate the determination of Michael Terhune, who brought the piece of steel from the South Tower to Tallahassee.

A drawing of the memorial was unveiled, showing the 3,500-pound of steel mounted on a pentagon-shaped platform. It will be constructed in front of the Red Cross building, with completion targeted for late this year or early 2022, according to Mathieu Cavell, who runs Leon County Community and Media Relations.

In addition to the Red Cross and Leon County government, the project is being shepherded by the Knight Creative Communities Institute and Team Guardian, which will finance construction of the memorial. 

Derzypolski, chairman of the Red Cross board of directors, and Terhune, founder of Team Guardian, are Navy Corpsmen who were in Tallahassee at the time of the attack. They both wanted to be in New York to help, Terhune pleading with his supervisors to send him.

He eventually got there with the Navy Reserves. What he saw live and on television of the horrific day brought on his determination to memorialize the day. He recalled how he showed up to work with a Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare’s ambulance unit at about the time that the first of two planes struck the towers.

“It was very impactful to me,” he said. “The next day, I started posting all the pictures of the firefighters they lost. As the names came in, we posted them with candles.”

Eight years after the attack, Terhune completed a second deployment to Iraq. He immediately set out to get a piece of the fallen tower for a memorial in Tallahassee. It wouldn’t be easy, as he had to maneuver bureaucracy, including being told that he needed $2 million in insurance to move the steel himself.

He made a $4,000 investment to hire a shipping company that eventually made the delivery. Terhune insisted that he wasn’t going to give up because of how the fateful day touched his life.

“I was very affected by 9/11,” he said, adding that he would have gotten the project done “even if I had built the memorial in my front yard.”

Of course it didn’t come to that. The involvement of KCCI helped to remove some of the hurdles, said Shannon Colevecchio, a member of the KCCI’s Catalyst team.

The idea that Terhune brought was a perfect fit with KCCI’s mission, she said.

“Clearly that is a day that you could say is this generation’s Pearl Harbor,” Colevecchio said. “Everyone who was around and old enough on 9/11 remembers exactly where they were.”

After giving an overview of what transpired on Sept. 11 in 2001, County Commission Rick Minor explained the significance of having the memorial in the state’s capital city.

“It will offer a place for Leon County residents and visitors to reflect and remember, not only the nearly 3,000 people who lost their lives, but those brave first responders who mobilized after the plane struck the North Tower at 8:46 a.m. and those who came from all over the country to aid in the rescue and recovery effort as well as the many men and women (who) voluntarily enlisted to serve and protect their country in the wake of the tragedy,” Minor said. “Their sacrifices will not be forgotten.”

As it turns out, Florida was linked to the attack. President George W. Bush was at Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota when the first plane slammed into the World Trade Center. Bush’s brother, Jeb, was governor of the state, where some of the 19 terrorists trained for the attack.

When the memorial is completed, it will be “honorable,” Terhune said, adding that he will have lasting memory of the attack.

“Americans hope an attack like this will never happen again,” he said. “Through this memorial, Florida and the capital city will never forget.”